Microsoft Word has some annoying features that, while intended to be helpful, simply get in the way instead. Don’t let your legal writing get blindsided by these features—turn them off.1

AutoFormat As You Type

As you’re typing in Word, certain formatting decisions get made for you. For example, if you type “1st”, the “st” will get superscripted as soon as you hit the space bar.

That’s Word’s AutoFormat As You Type option. In some instances (like the “1st” example), this can prove handy. In others, however, it’s just disastrous. Type a series of dashes and hit the Enter key and you’ll see what I mean.

You can set up AutoFormat As You Type to invoke less often. Go to the File tab, click Options, then in the Proofing section click AutoCorrect Options. On the AutoFormat As You Type tab, you’ll see this:

Word-2016-autoformat-as-you-type-recommended

These are my recommended settings, but it’s ultimately about what works in your context. For example, if you copy text out of Word to paste into a timekeeping app, you’ll want to turn off the “smart quotes”, since those characters don’t always translate well to plain text. If that’s not an issue for you, and you like the formatted quotes, leave it checked.

AutoCorrect

AutoCorrect is the feature that automatically changes “teh” to “the”, and this is where it stores its dictionary of commonly misspelled words. Some entries, however, can cause problems. For example, if your documents frequently use numbering schemes starting with “(a)”, you’ve probably noticed when you type “(c)” it turns into a copyright symbol. (If you get all the way down to “(r)” it will change it to the registered trademark symbol too.)

You can edit or delete any entry in this dictionary. Just scroll down to find the offender, click on it, and either hit the Delete button or edit it in the Replace field. For example, you could edit the prompt for the copyright symbol to “((c))” to get it out of your way when typing “(c)”.

Word-2016-auto-correct-pilcrow

You’ll also want to take a look at the checkboxes above and turn selected ones off.

Click OK to save your settings.

Paste Options Box

By default, anytime you paste text from one place to another in Word, a meant-to-be-helpful box appears just under the right corner of your pasted text:

Word-2016-paste-options-button-1If you don’t like the way the text has pasted (wrong font, etc.), you can use this box to do a quick fix:

Word-2016-paste-options-button-2

If you find this annoying because you already know how to paste text intelligently, you can turn this box off (again, this is within Options under the File tab):

Word-2016-turn-paste-options-button-off

Automatic Grammar Check

If you often find that Microsoft Word’s grammar checker marks sentences that aren’t actually grammatically wrong, you can disable it.

Microsoft Word checks grammar at two points: (1) as you type (by placing a red wavy line under grammatically-suspect text) and (2) when you open the spell checker on the Review tab. You can turn either or both levels off (again, within Options under the File tab):

Word-2016-check-grammar-as-you-type

Click OK at the bottom right to save your settings.

What Microsoft Word behaviors would you like to turn off? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all instructions and screenshots are from Microsoft Word 2016 for Windows. 

13 Comments

  1. Alex says:

    @legalofficeguru: When I share a word document with an associate or client, I look just like that lady in the picture.

    My goal is to have a client comment on a draft document or an associate flesh out a settlement agreement. I give them a doc, they comment or add text. Simple, right?

    I started out giving them word docs, but inevitably they would screw up the lists, tables, fonts, formatting in all sorts of ways. You’ve said that you can fix anything in word in 5 clicks. I have not found that to be the case. It would take me hours to correct the errors that creep into a lengthy contract.

    I switched to giving them PDFs to comment on, but no one knows how to use the comment function, so it’s useless for the client, and the associate can’t edit it. Is there a way to create a document with a “locked style” or something like that? I either need to teach everyone I interact with to learn to use Word properly (fool’s errand), or switch to a different program, where they can’t screw up the formatting.

  2. JoshuaSBaron says:

    I love this post so much. I added the ((p)) paragraph function. You’ve saved me hours of frustration.

  3. CBarberJD says:

    The first thing I change and turn off is the cut/copy the entire word. It drives me nuts as I often want to change parts of a word.

  4. zbecktx says:

    Great discussion! I use this most often when I’m in “poetry mode” (seriously).

  5. RocketGal says:

    I used this tip to turn off the automatic capitalization of a letter when i press enter and the cursor returns to the left hand side of the page. I have always been annoyed that a capital letter appears out of nowhere when I press Enter and I am not in mid sentence (and not needing a capital letter). I’ve been wanting to know how to turn this off ever since I “upgraded” to MS Word 2010. For some unknown reason i always perform this capitalization my self when I NEED IT at the far left hand side. Thanks Debra !

  6. nd says:

    was looking for how to turn off the “drag effect” when moving down paragraphs with keys

  7. Braden Dodge says:

    All the features you have listed as “annoying” here are extremely helpful to 99% of Word users. Autocorrect, Autoformat, and Grammar Correction are all used by many professional writers. And what about the “Paste Options Box” is annoying??? It immediately goes away the second you start typing again and can be essentially helpful if you want to tell it to paste text only when it pasted the text and formatting as well. If a simple little popup for 2 seconds annoys you that much, how OCD are you?
    What would have been helpful, would be instructions on how to disable the damn Researcher pane. It pops up for me whenever I paste from Wikipedia and it’s damn annoying.

    • Rafael says:

      @Braden Dodge
      Any luck turning off the researcher pane? I have the exact same problem whenever I paste from Wikipedia and I have tried absolutely everything.

  8. Elisha b Abbuyah says:

    Thanks so much for this. It really helped me. I’d like to know how to turn off the pop-up box that suggests dictionary options when I click a word that is underlined in red. I have many words transliterated from other languages, and while I want to see the red underline, I can’t stand that pop-up box with options to correct or add to dictionary. Is there any way to do that?
    Thanks again!

  9. A couple of questions:

    (1) Click (left-click) or right-click? I turned on a bunch of spell check options in Word 2016 and left-clicked on a deliberately misspelled word, but wasn’t able to replicate what you described.

    (2) Do you have more than one language listed in File > Options > Language? I tried adding a language and still couldn’t replicate what you described.

    (3) Do you have custom dictionaries loaded?

    The biggest question is, what version of Word are you using?

    The spelling & grammar options, generally, are in File > Options > Proofing.

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